12 October 2007

Spiritual Warfare: who's the enemy?

Satan in victory?

27th Week OT(F): Joel 1.13-15; 2.1-2 and Luke 11.15-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

[<---Click Podcast Player to listen!]

We are rushing headlong into God’s Kingdom. The war with Satan is over. He lost. With the advent of our Father’s Christ, the kingdom of God is at hand. We are wasting our time and treasure when we spend our lives fighting the Devil. Why continue to fight a defeated enemy? Spiritual warfare is not a war against evil. Rather it is a war to conquer our hesitation, our reluctance to claim the victory Christ won for us on the Cross. Our sign of victory is the Empty Tomb and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need weapons or strategies or a martial mindset to defeat Satan. Satan has lost. We are now fighting spiritual war against our own fears, our own faint hearts.

Do we gather? Or do we scatter? If we gather with Christ, we gather victories. If we scatter against him, we scatter his victory.

What is the problem with the notion of “spiritual warfare” when “spiritual warfare” is understood to be a fight against the forces of darkness? There are a number of problems. Here’s just two. First, we have to ask, why fight a defeated enemy? What aren’t we doing while we prepare to fight a war we have already won? Focused on fighting Satan, we fail to expend our spiritual resources on the real problem: human disobedience, the failure to hear the Word, to see the Word and to believe with heart, mind, body, and soul that no word or deed of a mere devil can stand against The Word himself. In other words, we play anxiously with a distraction and give the Devil hope.

Second, fighting the defeated Devil is an act of betrayal against Christ. How so? What exactly do you think Christ accomplished on the Cross? What exactly do you think the Empty Tomb testifies to? If the Devil still has power in your life and you need to fight him, then the Cross was always empty and the tomb littered with some rascally rabbi’s bones. Jesus clearly states to the doubters in the crowd, “…if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” If you believe that Jesus drives out these demons with his Father’s power, then you believe the Kingdom has arrived and continues to manifest until Christ comes again. If you don’t believe that Jesus drives out demons with heavenly power, then it must be case that you believe he does so with the power of Hell. Either we live in the Father’s kingdom or the Devil’s dungeon. Unite the kingdom, or divide it. Gather victory, or scatter it.

Our Holy Fathers John Paul II and Benedict XVI teach us that we have come into the Paschal Mystery of Christ in our baptism. Meaning what? Meaning, when we were baptized, we took the first step along the Way to following behind our Lord in his public ministry, his suffering, death and his resurrection—his final victory over death. In other words, following Christ means doing what Christ did, suffering what Christ suffered, dying as Christ died, and rising with him when he rose. Do you believe that Christ was ever subject to Satan? Or that he is subject to Satan now? Of course not! Death is dead. Sin is powerless. The war is over. And Christ is the victor.

If you don’t believe this, then what are you doing here?


  1. Anonymous9:18 AM

    This is a very powerful testament to the Truth, and we never need to give Satan any credit or power. But I think you down play Spiritual warfare and the domain of Satan. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Last Supper, Calvary, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Mass is the victory, is the past, present, and promised future. It is at this moment that we engage most firmly in the battle and the victory. Time is not a line for Heaven, only for us. Also we know that Satan and his angels are real and do exist, and are working very hard to influence souls to hell. Look at the temples of the Azteca and their blood sacrifices, or the crematorium of the Nazi or the Abortion mills, and all over America. Satan and his angels were, are, and will be defeated, it our duty to battle for our Kingdom.

    Revelation 12:17- Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

  2. I agree with the above post. I personally felt uneasy by your comments...

    I agree and confirm that Jesus won the war. He never had to "purchase" our souls from Satan, as many protestants believe, but came to prove to the world that His Kingdom is at hand and salvation is here. He opened up the gates of Heaven by dying for the sins of mankind and giving them the ability to repent and accept Christ.

    The war may have been won, but the battle is still waging. The struggle for souls is still going on because we have free will to accept God's word or reject it and go to Hell. Our own natural inclination to sin is proof that Satan's temptations have an impact on our free will... which is why our fight must be daily. We must put on our spiritual armour as announced in the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 6. Our armour is under God, in truth, justice, peace, faith, prayer, petition, and the Holy Spirit itself. If there was no need for battle, then the Holy Spirit would have no need to annoint us with His charisms which edify the church and defeat the works of satan.

    Peace be with You, Fr. Philip. Pax Inter Spinas.

  3. Thank you both for your comments...

    There is no reason to be uneasy about my homily. I am denying a very specific claim about "spiritual warfare." That claim is this: the devil has not been defeated by Christ yet and so we are engaged in a war against another powerful force outside the human heart/soul. This is simply not Christian teaching. This is some form of Manicheanism where two equally powerful gods--one good and one evil--use humanity to fight their war. My claim (and I think the correct teaching of the church) is that Christ has defeated Satan. He no longer has any power over us. So, the real war is internal to the human heart/soul and the human community. I'm denying the existence of Satan or the temptation to sin or the reality of needing to fight for our spiritual health. I just don't think that fight is with tht devil. It seems to me that more than half the battle against temptation is won once we come to accept that the devil lost and that the only power he has is the power we give him. And, perhaps, the way we give him power is by assuming that he still has it to defeat us.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  4. Question: if our fight is not with Satan, how do you get around exorcisms? These people are not deluded or suffering from their own self doubt, but are suffering from being attacked by real demons actively tormenting them. There are numerous figures in the tradition of Christian Spirituality who write about encounters with demons, and not in a figurative sense. How does your position make sense of that? I do not believe that this is your intention, but it sounds as if you are saying that no one encounters and finds him/herself in a battle with demons because they are a member of the body of Christ.

    The manichean trap is real and dangerous in taking away human free will, but I worry about downplaying spiritual warfare to the extent that one could almost be considered pelagian. We don't defeat evil singlehandedly nor are we pawns in a great cosmic battle, but at the same time this is a battle that we unite ourselves to in becoming Christians. In light of that, is it really impossible that members of the body of Christ would experience direct attack by supernatural evil? I think your emphasis is correct, simply that there are nuances here that could lead one to conclude that mentions of demons, exorcisms at baptisms, etc are merely perfunctory. I should have written about this for CS class. It would have been a more worthy companion for my paper on milk and honey.

  5. It is true. Evil is still around us and Satan uses our own tendencies to sin to his benefit. He still wants souls in Hell and uses our gift of free will to his benefit by "enticing" us to live in his world. Satan is prince of this world, but God has plans for us in the next, in His Kindgom of Heaven.

    Father, you say this:
    "I'm denying the existence of Satan or the temptation to sin or the reality of needing to fight for our spiritual health."

    I don't understand how that is according to doctrine. What would you say about this? This is from the CCC about the last rites, Sacrament of Healing.
    "1520 A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, "if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.""

    How can you deny the existence of Satan? Jesus, himself warns us about His influence and existence. Also, exorcisms were very real in His time and are still existent today. That doesn't mean that he is winning, not at all because we have the Holy Spirit and God given power to drive out demons in the name of Christ.

    I guess I'm still not really understanding what you are trying to say. Are we dissagreeing or misinterpreting scripture and doctring?

  6. God's Paintbrush,

    We're not disagreeing...

    my sentence should have read: "I'm NOT denying the existence of Satan or the temptation to sin or the reality of needing to fight for our spiritual health."

    Though I left out the all important NOT, I think the context makes of the sentence makes the NOT clear.


    I didn't say that we would never find ourselves attacked by demons. I said that Christ has already won every battle with demons for us. I think when we believe that the outcome of a fight with a demon is truly in doubt, the Devil wins a small victory. The real battle is with ourselves...how do we get to the point where we believe Christ has won and then start acting like he's won? Demonic possession cannot happen with the consent of the possessed. An exorcism cannot work without the consent of the possessed. The battle...as I understand it...is with the possessed to get them to acknowledge their power in Christ and expel the demon.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  7. Anonymous1:31 AM

    Father Philip, what a great reflection! Yes, the battle is over! Satan has been defeated by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and His rising from the dead. These days, the real battle is saving poor, lost souls. We must save them from eternal damnation. We must let them meet the Savior of Man. That is the real spiritual battle these days.

    With all the distractions of the world, a wall has landed in from of people so that they can't see the other side which is Truth. Which is God. God is eternal Truth. If this wall isn't demolished people will be damned. LOST. We cannot save souls if we aren't properly equipped and that's where the charisms come in to play. We really need to exercise the supernatural gifts the Holy Spirit has given us. For the saving of souls!

    The spiritual warrior also has to fight with himself. We are our greatest enemy. If we bury ourselves deep in Christ, then we will be fine. Our fears, insecurities, lusts, and etc will not overtake us.

    A demonic possession only takes place when a person is willing to take in the existence of the devil. This is related to what i said above that we are our own worst enemy. God just gave us free will. So if you let your lust take over you. You are inviting evil.

    So we must put on the armor of God to do some spiritual battle for Him to bring lost souls into the light of His presence and His saving power.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Arjan UH/Catholic Newman
    Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
    St. Benedict pray for us
    St. Michael pray for us
    St. Francis pray for us
    St. Faustina pray for us